Ballymena facts - crime, jobs and illness

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Castle Demesne has been identified as the ward with the highest crime rate in the Ballymena District Electoral Area (DEA) by a new report.

In Braid DEA, the Ballee ward has the highest concentration of the working age population without any qualifications while in Bannside, Ahoghill ward has the highest concentration of deaths due to cancers (malignant neoplasms).

These are just a sample of local ‘key issues’ identified in the draft Baseline Report carried out for Mid & East Antrim Council to inform the local authority’s first Community Plan.

Presented to the Council’s Community Planning Committee, last week, by a representative of RSM McClure Watters (consulting) it details key issues for each of the DEAs and ward levels against the six community planning themes of environment, safety and good relations, health, leisure and well being, community and social regeneration, education and economic regeneration.

The report provides a range of both qualitative and quantitative data from a wide range of sources including a citizens’ survey, focus groups, statutory agencies and community workshops.

An overview of the borough by the Baseline Report threw up some interesting “key issues” at ward level, such as the Slemish ward having the highest level of self employed people in the Braid DEA while Ardeevin had the lowest rate of unemployment in the Ballymena DEA.

On the Community Planning theme of Environment, the report found that Mid and East Antrim was two per cent above the Northern Ireland average rate for retail vacancy of 19% and 0.6% below the Northern Ireland average business start-up rate of seven per cent but identified Ballymena as having the potential to be “the retail capital of the North East”.

On the theme of Safety and Good Relations, it emerged that Mid & East Antrim was below the NI average for criminal damage, burglary, theft, and anti-social behaviour and that drug offences per ward (4.55) were significantly below the Northern Ireland average (8.11).

However, it was pointed out to the committee that the local ‘perceptions of crime don’t reflect the statistics’.

This was also the case, according to the report, with regard to perceptions of the suicide rate.

Councillors were informed that the Council area was in the top quartile in relation to the lowest levels of deaths from suicide and that while there were an estimated 3,467 avoidable deaths within the area between 2001-2011, overall, Mid and East Antrim ranked fifth out of the 11 local authorities in terms of overall health performance.

With regard to Education, Mid and East Antrim was found to be above the Northern Ireland average for working population with no qualifications at 30.41% compared to 29.12% (NI wide) but that good commuting links and the high concentration of professional level jobs attracted and retained a highly qualified workforce.

Turning to Economic Regeneration, the report found that job density in the borough was below the provincial average.

However, it also found that there was a high proportion of well paid semi-skilled entry level jobs in the manufacturing and transport sector but under representation in professional services, advanced manufacturing, agri food and tourism.

And it revealed, too, that Mid and East Antrim has a higher than average business death rate of 9.75% compared to Northern Ireland (9.4%).

Emerging issues from the draft Baseline Report included a need to diversify the local economy by enhancing local clusters, encouraging business start ups and addressing the high business death rate, and promoting the wider tourism proposition of the area; a need to address negative perceptions of particular communities in the borough in relation to such issues as sectarianism; a need to ensure the rural perspective is considered in all policy decisions; targeted interventions to address the lifetime opportunities of the most vulnerable within society by addressing constraints affecting health and educational achievement; and, a focus on redeveloping town centres of key settlements as places not only to shop but also in which to work, play and live.

Councillors were told by their Director of Organisation Development and Community Planning, Karen Hargan, that it was “vital” that the local authority’s first Community Plan was developed using “robust evidence” and pointed out that the baseline report before them would be essential in assisting that process.

The committee went on to broadly welcome the report and agreed her recommendation that it be circulated to a wide range of stakeholders to gauge their opinions.